The Giants officially exercised Madison Bumgarner’s 2018 option on Monday. This was not a surprise. They also exercised Matt Moore’s 2018 option on Monday. They announced that they would over a month ago, and it makes sense in the context of the Giants’ payroll and a thin pitching market.
Then they exercised Pablo Sandoval’s option, and if you’re like me, you stopped for a minute to scratch your head like an ape. But I can explain.
Sandoval’s original contract did not have an option for 2018. It had one for 2020, but nothing that was going to affect next season. Once the Red Sox released him, though, they were still obligated to pay his entire salary. The only chance they would have to get some of that money back is if another team employed him. Sandoval would cost his new team the major league minimum in this scenario, and it would be something like a rebate that was paid to the Red Sox.
That’s what happened last year. The Giants paid Sandoval something like $180,000, and that went to the Red Sox, who were in the business of cutting much larger checks to him. If the Giants wanted to keep this arrangement for the 2018 season, they would have to opt in.
That’s what they did. They opted into the idea of Sandoval around at the league minimum salary. It’s worth remembering, though, that the Giants aren’t the ones who have to guarantee that Sandoval’s salary is getting paid. The Red Sox are. If Sandoval hits .001 in the Cactus League, the Giants can cut him without any further obligations. This is a zero-risk move to see if Sandoval can come into camp in shape and help the team’s bench. Considering the Giants had Conor Gillespie on the bench last year as their designated pinch-hitter, this would seem to be a fine fit. Pretend that Sandoval’s name is “Scott Hatteberg,” and you can get behind it more.
I mean, what’s the worst that can happen? That Sandoval is horrible for most of the year but resurfaces on the final day, just to spoil the Giants’ chances at the first-overall pick in next year’s draft?
Yeah, right. Seems pretty unlikely.
For real, though, Sandoval’s numbers with the Giants were eerily similar to the numbers that got him cut from the Red Sox, and it took a late surge for him to get back to even those numbers. He had an unbelievable stretch of futility at the end of August that made it look like he wasn’t even likely to be considered for a utility job next season.
He improved, though, and it’s pretty obvious that the choice the Giants just made wasn’t much of a choice at all. This is an option to test drive a bench option for zero cost next spring. There is absolutely no risk. I would make a joke here about the Giants being too sentimental to let go someone like Sandoval, but Dave Righetti isn’t the pitching coach anymore. I’m pretty sure the Giants were shamed out of sentimentality last year. And if Sandoval doesn’t look like a Gillaspie-level option off the bench (where he can play first and third, while also being a better emergency catcher than Pedro Feliz), he would be gone.
I’m thinking he’ll look just fine, though, and he’ll start the season on the bench. The Giants at least gave themselves the option to figure that out, pun intended.